The 5: Notable free agent pickups in Arizona Cardinals history
On March 9, the Arizona Cardinals will be able to start signing free agents.
Comparable to last season, the team has significantly more apparent holes to fill, though guessing what positions they will seek to address and which players they would prefer to add is anyone’s guess.
Except ours, because we’re not going to even attempt to try.
Sorry if that disappoints you, but it’s not like we’re going to leave you with nothing.
How does a trip down memory lane sound? Good? Excellent.
In this edition of “The 5” we will look at five of the most notable free agent signings in Cardinals history, with the additions being chosen due to various factors, including name recognition, performance and overall impact.
Kurt Warner – 2005 – 1 year, $4 million
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) March 6, 2017
The fanfare surrounding Warner signing with the Cardinals had more to do with what Warner used to be than what anyone thought he would do for his new team. The veteran was coming off a one-year stint with the New York Giants that saw him lose the starting job to Eli Manning, and was set to take the reigns in Arizona with Josh McCown as his backup.
Warner’s first season in the desert was an uneven one, with the Cardinals winning just two of the 10 games he started and the QB passing for 2,713 yards with 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and six lost fumbles.
Despite that, Warner and the Cardinals decided to continue their relationship into the future, as he signed a three-year contract extension the following offseason. Though he had his issues in 2006, too, it’s safe to say things ultimately worked out for both sides, as he went on to lead the Cardinals to consecutive NFC West titles in 2008 and 2009 as well as Super Bowl XLIII.
Edgerrin James – 2006 – 4 years, $30 million
The Cardinals were moving into a brand new stadium, and with money to burn landed one of the biggest stars available. With the Colts in 2005, James ran for 1,506 yards and 13 touchdowns while also catching 44 passes for 337 yards and one score, and adding him to an offense that already had Warner and receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald seemed to be a great idea.
“OK, it’s a risk,” James admitted at the time. “But hey, I’m a poker player. You can take it to the river. I’m not scared to make a change. I’m not scared to go out on a limb and try something different.”
James’ first season in Arizona was OK, as he ran for 1,159 yards and six touchdowns. He was the first Cardinal to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark since Adrian Murrell in 1998, and if nothing else, Edge heading to Arizona was a sign that the Cardinals were ready to compete for some of the NFL’s better and most sought after players.
Emmitt Smith – 2003 – 2 years, $8 million
Let’s call it like it was: The Cardinals wanted some publicity and a boost in ticket sales, so they did what it took to sign a future Hall of Famer who just so happened to be a popular player with a former division rival.
One of the greatest running backs of all time, Smith was 33 and coming off a season in which he failed to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since 1990, his rookie year. His 3.8 yards per carry was also his lowest average since 1996, and his best days were clearly behind him.
It’s why the Dallas Cowboys decided to cut the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. The Cardinals, however, were very willing to bring him into the fold.
“I know what Emmitt has conveyed to me,” then Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. “He knows what he has left. He believes he can be a contributor. He will be a very valuable member of this organization, on and off the field.”
The back’s first season in Arizona was a rough one, with him running for just 256 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games before suffering a broken shoulder blade against, coincidentally, the Dallas Cowboys. His second season with the Cardinals was better, with him notching 937 yards and nine touchdowns while also throwing his first career touchdown pass.
While his on-field production was nothing to remember, Smith did bring some level of credibility to the organization, and his leadership cannot be discounted.
Seth Joyner – 1994 – 5 years, $14 million
There was a good amount of buzz surrounding the Cardinals in 1994 after they tabbed Buddy Ryan to be their head coach and general manager. A big name and even bigger personality, Ryan came to the Cardinals intent on upgrading their defense and turning the team into the kind of winner it had never been.
The first part of that goal, anyway, was accomplished in year one in large part due to free agency. After inking former Philadelphia Eagle Clyde Simmons to a five-year, $14.5 million contract, the Cardinals were then able to lure in former Eagle linebacker Seth Joyner. The two shared the same agent, Jim Solano.
“Clyde and I are pretty much best friends,” Joyner said at the time. “When we sat down early in the season, we pretty much knew what the situation was going to be, Clyde and I and Jim. We talked about different scenarios — Clyde and I being together, Clyde and I being separated. It was always a high priority for us to be together.”
A Pro Bowler in 1993 after amassing 113 tackles, two sacks and one interception, Joyner was an impact player in Arizona with six sacks to go along with 38 tackles and three interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 1994, and amassed six sacks over the next two years with the Cardinals. Simmons, by the way, collected six sacks in 1994 and then 11 in 1995.
Mike Iupati – 2015 – 5 years, $40 million
The Cardinals had won 11 games the previous season but were ravaged by injuries, including at the quarterback position. So, in an effort to help bolster the offensive line, the team went and signed Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati away from the division rival San Francisco 49ers.
“I really think that Arizona has a really good shot [at a Super Bowl],” Iupati told Burns and Gambo on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM shortly after joining the Cardinals. “I really think they have a really good team … they have a great organization and great coaches, so I’m excited.
“There was a lot of teams [who made offers], but I didn’t think of Arizona until they really tried.”
Iupati was coming off three straight trips to the Pro Bowl, and while he wasn’t seen as a great pass blocker, he was regarded as being excellent in the run game and the possible missing piece to a championship puzzle.
In terms of the kind of impact Iupati made, while plenty more than just his play goes into it, the Cardinals did improve from 3.3 yards per carry in 2014 to 4.2. In 2015, QB Carson Palmer was protected well enough to start all 16 games and lead the Cardinals to the NFC Championship Game. Last season Arizona averaged 4.3 yards per run, though much of that can be attributed to how exceptional running back David Johnson played.
Regardless, since signing with Arizona Iupati has been a quality player for the Cardinals, and at 29 likely still has many good years left in him.